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What Else Does Dealer Dell Have Up His Sleeve?

Published: February 4, 2018

On January 26th, when news broke that DeMarcus Cousins had been lost for the year, the season seemed all but over. Two terrible home losses to the Clippers and Kings made it even worse, but a trade for Nikola Mirotic and an unexpected road win against OKC has given the Pelicans new life again. Still, last night’s game at Minnesota showed that this roster still has some glaring weaknesses, and though the Pelicans might get Solomon Hill back soon, they need one or two reinforcements to really make some noise in the first round of the playoffs.

The trade deadline is this Thursday, and the buyout market could have some interesting players to choose from after that. The issue with the latter is that the Pelicans aren’t considered a real contender, and that is usually the top priority for any hired gun. The Pels came close to signing Greg Monroe, but that is only because he is a local product who has long wanted to play in New Orleans. The same does not hold true for Joe Johnson or Brook Lopez.

So, any hope of a real impact player would come from a trade over these next few trades. But herein lies another problem — Dell Demps doesn’t really have any major assets to put in the deal, and beyond that, he doesn’t have much matching salary to send out. All the players making over the minimum this year are needed for the playoff run, with two exceptions – Dante Cunningham and Alexis Ajinca. But Cunningham can veto any trade, and Ajinca has another year’s worth of salary on the books at just over $5 million. On top of that, it will be hard for the Pelicans to trade a future first round pick, because the combination of the protections put on the pick they sent to the Bulls and the Stepien Rule make it extremely difficult for the Pelicans to send one out.

For the sake of this piece, let’s assume Cunningham doesn’t accept a trade to a bad team looking to tank, which is the exact type of partner the Pelicans are likely to deal with. That basically just leaves Ajinca. In addition to the extra year he is owed, the team would also have to pay him for the remainder of this year, making his total cost right around $6.5 million. Some have suggested using a second round pick to dump Ajinca’s salary, but a mid-second round pick usually has a value of between 1.5 – 2 million dollars.

So, a second round pick by itself likely isn’t enough to entice teams to take on Ajinca’s contract. The Pelicans would likely have to give up multiple picks, and perhaps cash for that to make sense for a team to do. But, there is a situation where Ajinca could be appealing to a team. The Pelicans need to look for teams who are not buyers on the market this year, but might be this time next year. That team also needs to be operating over the cap next summer next season, so cap space isn’t of real value to them. Then, that team could essentially exchange expiring contracts for Ajinca, who they could use as part of a trade next year, and grab some picks and cash for their troubles.

The Memphis Grizzlies, for instance, fit this criteria. With Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Chandler Parsons on the books, they won’t have any real cap room to speak of next summer. They also aren’t going anywhere this year, but might turn it around next season, and the Ajinca contract could be a valuable trade chip next February. The Knicks are in a similar situation, as our a few others. With that in mind, let’s look at a few small deals that Dell could make that would benefit the Pelicans both this year and next.

Trade Idea #1: Alexis Ajinca, 2018 2nd Rounder, 2019 Second Rounder, $2 million cash for James Ennis III and Mario Chalmers

The Grizzlies help themselves by making their team even worse in the short-term, while the Pelicans add a wing who could help in the rotation and a point guard with playoff experience. Ennis is a career 37% three-point shooter that can defend a little and finishes well at the rim. Chalmers, meanwhile, has played in 99 playoff games and could bring back some of the leadership the Pelicans lost in the Chicago trade, where they sent out Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson.

Trade idea #2: Alexis Ajinca, 2018 2nd, 2019 2nd, and cash for Jarrett Jack and Kyle O’Quinn

The Knicks get a couple of seconds for two guys they are likely to lose this summer any way. They will be over the cap next summer, so the space won’t help them as much as an expiring contract that could be part of a trade next February. Meanwhile, the Pelicans get a rugged backup center in O’Quinn that might actually be a better fit than Monroe would have been. O’Quinn is an elite offensive rebounder who is also very good on the defensive glass and he has a respectable mid-rang game as well. Jack has been solid this season, and while his three-point shot is lacking, he brings a steady vet presence and can be deadly from mid-range at times. There are also versions of this trade that can see Diallo going out and Willy Hernangomez coming in. Maybe Doug McDermott as part of the deal, etc.

Trade Idea #3: Alexis Ajinca, 2018 2nd, 2019 2nd, and cash for Mo Speights and Mario Hezonja

The dream here would be to land Elfrid Payton and Speights, but the Magic can probably get more for Payton in another deal. Speights, however, can fit into Gentry’s system and can eat up some minutes at center so that AD doesn’t have to get all the wear and tear that comes with the position. Over his last two season, Speights has become a volume there-point shooter, hoisting up nearly 10 per 36 minutes and connecting on close to 37% of them. He also can rebound a bit when motivated. Hezonja, meanwhile, is a total wild card. He has awesome pedigree but it just has never clicked in Orlando. Maybe playing off of AD for a couple minutes per game in a Chris Finch system could unlock his potential.

Trade Idea #4: Alexis Ajinca, 2018 2nd, 2019 2nd, and cash for Jahlil Okafor

The Nets were already paid a second round pick by the Sixers to take on Okafor. Now, they get two more picks to get rid of him. The Pelicans, meanwhile, get to rent an ultra-talented low post big and dump Ajinca’s salary for next year. Okafor has his faults, but he can score from the low post, he is a good passer, and an okay rebounder. You could do much worse for 10-12 minutes a night at backup center. On nights that the Pelicans play pace and space teams, he can sit the bench while AD, Mirotic, Hill, Diallo, and Cunningham handle the minutes at the 4 and 5. But on nights where you play a Lopez or a Drummond, Okafor can get some minutes and absorb some of the punishment while giving the Pels a few easy buckets.


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